Developer seeks zoning relief for 55-unit project in Northern Liberties

On Wednesday, developer David Perlman presented his plans for a new 55-unit residential project on the 400 block of Fairmount Avenue in Northern Liberties to the Zoning Board of Adjustment. The hearing ended without a decision: the local community organization was given more time to try to resolve some sticking points with the developer.

The project is proposed for a vacant industrial building at 420-442 Fairmount Avenue. It would entail the demolition of a few buildings and the adaptive reuse of others. (See previous coverage of the project from Philadelphia Magazine’s Property blog here.) 

One of the standing buildings would be converted into an apartment with 41 rental units. They would include eight studio apartments, 21 one-bedroom units, 11 2-bedroom units, and one 3-bedroom apartment. The apartments would range in rent from $1,100 per month to $4,500 per month, according to Perlman.

The project would also include 14 townhomes that would be offered for sale.

The major issue between the developer and the Northern Liberties Neighborhood Association—and “major” is probably an overstatement—is about the amount of commercial space included in the project. The original plans called for no commercial space, but after conversations with NLNA, Perlman says he agreed to include 1,000 square feet of commercial space in one unit facing Fairmount.

The neighborhood group would like to see two more “non-residential” units included on the ground floor, totaling around 1,200 additional square feet of commercial space. The spaces don’t have to be dedicated for traditional commercial usage, said NLNA zoning chair Larry Freedman; something like a law office or art studio would work. NLNA is working to preserve non-residential uses throughout the neighborhood to preserve some of its character, Freedman said.

Perlman isn’t used to developing projects with commercial components—a former president of the Building Industry Association of Philadelphia, his company is called Philadelphia Residential Development Corporation—and he said that dedicating the space he’s already dedicating constitutes a financial hit to him. He estimated that residential space would rent for approximately 60 or 70 cents more per square foot than commercial, a difference of between $600 and $700 per month for a 1,000-square-foot space.

Nonetheless, Perlman said he is willing to market two additional units for non-residential use for around 9 months while the project is in development. But if the units don’t attract tenants, he wants to reserve the right to rent them for residential use.

Freedman said he agreed in principle, but wanted the offer attached as a proviso to the zoning decision. The ZBA said it couldn’t do that, and told the parties to work out a side agreement.

Another member of NLNA, Ira Upin, speaking on his own behalf, said the project doesn’t include enough parking spaces for the number of units. The development will include 26 parking spaces, which is enough to meet the 1:2 ratio required by the zoning code. But 14 of those spaces will be dedicated to the 14 townhomes, with 12 spaces dedicated to the remaining 41 rental units.

The zoning board granted the parties two additional weeks to come to an agreement about the commercial space.

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